Managing buttercup in grazed pastures

Doug Shepherd

One of the signs that spring has arrived is when yellow flowers of buttercup begin to appear, but it’s during the winter months the vegetative growth of buttercup takes place.

As a cool-season weed, this plant often flourishes in overgrazed pasture fields with poor stands of desirable forages. In fact, many fields that have dense buttercup populations are fields heavily grazed by animals during the fall through the early spring months.

Buttercups sometimes are classified as short-lived perennials, but often grow as winter annuals. Plants typically produce five, shiny yellow petals in the early spring.

There are four different species of buttercups found in Kentucky: bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus), creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens), tall buttercup (Ranunculus acris), and small flower buttercup (Ranu­nculus arbortivus). Though each of these plants might have somewhat similar flower heads, each of these buttercup species differs somewhat in their vegetative leaf characteristics.

New seeds are produced during the time petals are showy. Waiting until after flowers appear can be too late to implement control tactics. This is one reason buttercups can survive year to year and new plants emerge each year.

Most buttercup plants emerge from seed during the fall or late winter months. There­­fore, pasture management practices that improve and promote growth of desirable plants during these months is one of the best methods to help compete against the emergence and growth of this plant. Whereas, livestock animals allowed to overgraze fields during the fall and winter months is one of the main factors that contribute to buttercup problems.

Mowing fields or clipping plants close to the ground in the early spring before buttercup plants can produce flowers might help reduce the amount of new seed produced, but mowing alone will not eliminate seed production.

For chemical control, herbicides registered for use on grass pastures that contain 2,4 D effectively will control buttercup. Depending on other weeds present, products that contain dicamba+2,4 D (Weedmaster), aminopyralid (ForeFront, Milestone), triclopyr (PastureGard, Crossbow) or metsulfuron (Cimarron) also can be used. However, legumes such as clovers interseeded with grass pastures can be severely injured or killed by these herbicide products.

For optimum results, apply a herbicide in the early spring – February or March – before flowers are observed, when buttercup plants still are small and actively growing. For best herbicide activity, wait until daytime air temperatures are higher than 50 degrees for two or three consecutive days. Consult the herbicide label for further information on grazing restrictions, precautions, or other possible limitations.

For fields heavily infested with buttercup, a variety of control tactics may be needed. Apply a herbicide to help reduce the population of buttercup plants in the spring, plus use good pasture management techniques throughout the year to help improve and thicken the stand of desirable forages.

Upcoming Meetings

• Multi-County Tobacco Production and GAP Certifica­tion Meeting, 10 a.m. CST Wednesday, March 7, Breckin­ridge County Extension Com­mu­nity Building, Hardinsburg. Meeting qualifies for GAP certification for all tobacco companies. Be sure to bring a GAP Connection Card and a photo ID with you to become certified. Meal provided. If you cannot make it to this GAP certification meeting, go to for a list of dates that might be available to you.

• University of Kentucky Novel Tall Fescue Workshop, March 8, Lexington. Covers all aspects of establishment and management of novel endophyte tall fescue varieties. To register, go to

• Kentucky Seedstock Sym­posium, 9 a.m. April 25, Shelby County Extension Service, 1117 Frankfort Road, Shelbyville. Presentation topics include bull development, bull selection, using EPDs, EPD development, genomics technology and selection indices. Lunch and materials included in $25 registration fee. Register at

• 2018 Kentucky Fencing School, March 22, UK Re­search Farm, Versailles. Cost $30. Participant fee includes notebook, refreshments and lunch. Topics include overview of Kentucky fencing law, fence economics, fence construction basics, electric fencing basics, and hands-on building basics.

Doug Shepherd is a Hardin County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.